HAYWARD -- Don't dare try to dog Kari McAllister -- she'll have none of it.
The 57-year-old transgender Jill-of-all-trades is on a mission to stop bullying, be it in schools, at work or at home. And she certainly won't put up with any kind of harassment directed her way.
"Without ever being terribly threatening, she is able to exert a presence that says, 'I'm OK, and you don't have to accept me if you don't want to and I'm still OK,' " said Betty DeForest, who worked with McAllister at the Lighthouse Community Center, a gathering place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks. "And they hear her. Even the most rabid have heard her."
Take, for example, the time McAllister was in line to catch a movie in Union City four years ago, a few years after she publicly became a woman full time.
"Three guys were there in front of me, and one of them started singing, 'Dude Looks Like a Lady,' " McAllister said. "He wouldn't look at me. If you are going to do that, at least have the nerve and guts to look me in the eyes."
McAllister stared directly at the young man. Other people saw her response and started staring at him, too.
"He stopped singing, put his back to the wall and slumped down to sit on the floor," she said. "He realized he was not going to get support. Even his buddies didn't back him up."
And that's how it's done, McAllister said.
"It's not about me," she said. "It's his issue. He was trying to be a big guy in front of his friends but he got no rise, and it went away."
It's McAllister's blunt honesty that's key to her brand of problem solving, DeForest said.
"Her openness and honesty are phenomenal," DeForest said. "This is a woman who is perfectly honest about who she is and comfortable with it -- perfectly comfortable. And I think that makes other people comfortable, too."
In addition to being the former director of Lighthouse, McAllister is a member of the city's Library Commission and the Chabot College Foundation. Recently, she has been talking with the Hayward Police Department and schools around the Bay Area about the bullying issue, trying to get it into classrooms as part of curriculum.
"Why do you think so many kids kill themselves in September?" she said. "The answer is because they had the summer off. Maybe they thought (the bullying) would all go away, that it would no longer be an issue. Then they go back to school and find the exact same dynamic is still in play."
Hayward police Lt. Sheryl Boykins, who also has been working on the bullying issue, said talking with McAllister was an eye-opener.
"She wanted to put in her thoughts particular to bullying with the gay, transgender and bisexual group," Boykins said. "Turns out that particular group had as many suicides or attempted suicides as all of the other groups together. Kari's group is targeted more often than any other. It's not just bullying for the sake of bullying."
In the past
McAllister grew up in San Leandro, graduating from San Leandro High in 1972.
"I wanted to see the world, so I moved to Hayward," she said.
For five decades, she was Bob McAllister in public. Bob the trucker, Bob the married man, Bob the audio repair shop guy, Bob the rocker, Bob the Chabot College theater tech -- although Kari now has that job and she still rocks out.
But for most of her life, McAllister lived in a cardboard box in a closet.
"No one had any idea," she said. "When my wife or roommate were not around, I would take Kari out, dress up and prance around."
Friends told her later that they had no idea about that part of her life.
"I said, 'That's because you were never supposed to know!' " she said. "I kept Kari in the box, and sometimes I could hear her screaming at me to let her out."
When she decided to take Kari out full time, after years of therapy, planning and taking hormones, she went big.
"I composed an e-mail to the (Chabot) campus community," she said. "I read it 175 times, making sure all the grammar was correct, that I got everything right. "... I pressed 'send,' and it was one of the least stressful things. A huge weight was taken off me, and I heard a lock click closed on that closet of men's clothes. That closet that I never wanted to get dressed out of."
Never been happier
Since then, McAllister has been happier, calmer and more focused than ever before.
"I've been Kari my entire life, (Bob) was an act, a woman in men's clothes," she said. "It was an identity issue, not an orientation issue."
McAllister had sexual reassignment surgery in 2007, but never altered her voice. Sometimes in a phone conversation with someone who doesn't know her, she will give them a heads-up before they meet: "My voice does not match my persona."
And it's often hard for people to get their pronouns right.
"They'll say, 'Dude, dude, dude, dude, dude.' I have to say, 'Hey, it's 'dudette.' "
But for the most part, it's not something McAllister pays much mind to.
"Yes, I am transgender, but it's very seldom that I think about it," she said. "I go do things, and when I'm in the room I'm not doing an inventory check of males and females. I'm checking to see who is there, and what can I get done today. All they see me as is Kari, and we'll get to it and get it done.
"I go to city events, Chamber of Commerce events. After a while, people just see you as an individual. We agree on things, and the biggest things we want are to make sure we have good schools, and good police and good fire services. Then, I'm not a member of this or that group, we're all in the same group."
Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.
CLAIM TO FAME: Activist in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender community and bullying issues.
QUOTE: "Yes, I am transgender, but it's very seldom that I think about it. I go do things, and when I'm in the room, I'm not doing an inventory check of males and females. I'm checking to see who is there, and what can I get done today. All they see me as is Kari, and we'll get to it and get it done."
Hometown Heroes, a partnership between Bay Area News Group-East Bay and Comcast, celebrates people in the East Bay who make a difference in their communities. In addition to highlighting remarkable individuals, the Hometown Heroes feature aims to encourage volunteerism, raise visibility of nonprofits and key causes in the area and create a spirit of giving.
Read about a new Hometown Hero every other Monday and watch the program on Comcast On Demand at Channel One-Get Local-Hometown Heroes.
Do you know a Hometown Hero? Let us know about the work they do at HometownHeroes@bayareanewsgroup.com.